Are we getting to a point where a potential NHL Return To Play and the Boston Bruins 2020-21 season is in serious jeopardy because of labor issues and the second wave of COVID-19, which is raging around the world?
“Talks are at a standstill. It’s really quiet,” a prominent NHL agent told “Off the Record” on Monday.
While there is still a good deal of hope for an NHL Return, the owners’ latest request to alter the collective bargaining agreement, which was signed just five months ago, left the players fuming and their agents wondering when is enough with the “constant concessions” players have made since the 2004-05 lockout?
In other words, the NHL’s offer may have re-opened old wounds. Some are beginning to ask: Would some NHL owners and even the league be OK with canceling the 2020-21 NHL season?
That and more in the latest National Hockey Now “Off The Record”:
1. Agents: ‘When Will The NHLPA Finally Say Enough?’
That’s the question numerous NHL player agents have been rhetorically asking their clients and the media since the NHL officially asked for an additional 13-16-percent deferral of the players’ 2020-21 season salaries and an increase on the already agreed upon 20-percent escrow from the recently signed Collective Bargaining Agreement. As mentioned above, that is not so surprising, but a painful ask from the owners has put talks on another NHL Return To Play at a standstill.
According to three agents, who spoke to ‘Off The Record’ on condition of anonymity, what really has agents and the players ticked off is that they truly felt for the first time in a while that both sides negotiated in good faith. Both sides knew the predicament in which the NHL would once again find itself. They signed the new CBA under that mutual understanding that things would be anything but normal with the erratic nature of life in a COVID world.
So why now, and not back in July, did the owners decide to test the players’ willingness to give back even more than they have in the last two CBA’s?
Off the record: “First off, no one is suggesting this is the time for the players to take a stance for the sake of proving a point,” an NHL agent said to OTR. “But let’s just look at the big picture here, OK? Prior to the 04-05 lockout, players took home 72-percent of their salaries, and now they’re looking at 40-45-percent. It’s estimated that a total of $7-8 billion has shifted from the players to the owners since then. Yet every year, it seems like the players are negotiating against themselves.
When will the NHLPA finally say enough? That’s what’s happening here. It’s unreal. At what point do the players just say enough is enough. Obviously, they know the owners got them again, and they will look like greedy assholes if they hold out, but this does not bode well for the future.”
From another NHL agent:
“This is just another example of Gary and the owners knowing they basically can get away with anything. They’re using the pandemic to hide behind and shove another concession down the players’ throats. The players will negotiate, and they will agree because they just want to play, but hopefully, the younger generation and the young stars like [Connor] McDavid and [Auston] Matthews have long memories.’
2. Are Some Owners Against An NHL Return For 2020-21 Season?
There is fear that a growing number of NHL owners would prefer to cancel the 2020-21 NHL season instead of putting on a truncated season with no fans in the stands. As it did with the NHL Return To Play in Toronto and Edmonton’s hub cities, most teams will lose money or break even without fans. With no gate receipts and sponsors dropping like flies, the consensus amongst these owners is that it could be better for the entire league to regroup, adapt to the new normal and be ready for a full 2021-22 NHL season to start on time.
Off the record: “I know of five owners already, maybe even six, that are seriously questioning if it makes sense to have a season,” one prominent NHL agent told OTR recently. “You gotta remember that for most of these owners, their NHL teams aren’t their primary sources of income. A lot of these guys are in the hospitality industry, and we all know how that’s doing right now. Is it worth it to them now and in the long run to likely pay to have a season?”
3. Exodus To Europe Just Beginning?
The longer negotiations and an NHL Return To Play go on between the NHL and NHLPA, the more likely we will continue to see not just young prospects who can’t play Juniors, NCAA, or AHL hockey, but also veteran NHL and AHL players migrate to Europe. If NHLers on two-way contracts finished last season in the AHL, they are technically still on the AHL contract and not paid. Such players haven’t seen a check since last April, and likely won’t see one until February 5 when the AHL is trying to launch their 2020-21 season.
Off the Record: “They’re already heading there, and you’re going to see a lot of these guys just stay there because they may end up making a pretty decent amount and could be deep into a season,” an NHL Executive told OTR. “I’m talking about guys that may be near the end and are playing bigger roles there. With the uncertainty and the chance, we see a lot of starts and stop in any NHL season here, keep an eye on how many of those on the fringe players, and yes, the younger kids head over. If we start to see any star players go in the next week or so … though, then we’re in trouble here because they will know the season isn’t starting for a while.”
4. Don’t Rule Out A February Return
While the NHL continues to push a Jan. 1 start date, many are beginning to feel that’s a pipe dream. The common date being tossed around now is a 60-game truncated season starting on Jan. 15. However, one NHL source with direct knowledge of the talks between the NHL and NHLPA indicated that a February return is now a serious option. This would go in line with what we reported here two weeks ago.
Off the Record: “I can tell you that Feb. 5 has been discussed and remains an option,” the source said. “Of course, everyone would prefer it to be earlier, but there is just too much out of our control right now, so all options really have to be explored.
5. Adam Oates A Dark Horse For Coyotes Assistant Coach?
Word this past weekend was that the Arizona Coyotes are closing in on hiring another assistant coach to join assistant Phil Housley and head coach Rick Tocchet. An interesting candidate was brought up by one NHL source.
Off the Record: “I’d keep an eye on Adam Oates,” one NHL executive told OTR. “Probably just a dark horse, and I’m told Rick’s narrowing down the list. I know he had three candidates, but I’ve been hearing Oates could be one.”
The same source said a name to keep an eye on for future Assistant coaching gigs in the AHL and NHL is former Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) Jon Goyens. Goyens, 42, also coached Jonathan Drouin, Anthony Duclair, and Alex Killorn for the legendary Lac St-Louis program in Pointe-Claire, Quebec.